Children with diabetes face more challenges than most at school.
Having diabetes affect the day-to-day lives of children at school in several ways, while diabetes management can vary between children of different ages. This could be due to administering insulin, testing blood sugar levels, gauging what to eat or even explaining to other children what diabetes is.
To provide children, and parents, with an idea of what it’s like having diabetes at school, I sat down with two other type 1 diabetes residents at Diabetes.co.uk to discuss our experiences.
Our DCUK staff panel is:
Jack Woodfield, Deputy Editor, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 4
Mollie Way, Social Media Specialist, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 9
Benedict Jephcote, Editor, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 11
Q. Prior to starting school/going back to school, do you remember being apprehensive about your diabetes?
Jack: “No. But that was primarily because my parents were terrific in easing the burden: they had told all my teachers and my friends in my year all knew too. I knew I had a “magic medicine box” full of Lucozade and glucose tablets to go to when I felt a hypo coming on, and in truth, I was much more worried about making friends.”
Mollie: “I was really nervous going back to primary school after being diagnosed as I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to cope with it. I also remember being pretty nervous when I started secondary school because it was a new environment and I didn’t know where I’d be able to test my blood sugar and do my injection before and after lunch.”
Benedict: “I must have been apprehensive at first going back to junior school. Upon starting secondary school, I was probably more apprehensive about starting secondary school in general more than the part that my diabetes would play.”
Q. Did you and/or your parents ask your teacher(s) to reveal to your class that you had diabetes?
Jack: “My parents asked my form tutor to tell our class on one of the first days. And even though I don’t remember discussing it beforehand, I’m glad it happened this way. It got it out the way, and my teacher told everyone in a very basic way that didn’t paint me as someone to be feared, more someone to just keep an eye on every now and then.”
Mollie: “My class at the time of my diagnosis was told by my teacher (who also had type 1) while I was off school. When I came back, everyone was really nice to me and made sure to make me feel like I hadn’t been off for too long.”
Benedict: “My junior teacher and class were told before I came back to school and a small plus was that I was allowed to go through the lunch queue first and could choose someone to come through with me. The class was small and there weren’t any problems or issues. I didn’t get a hard time because of my diabetes.”
Q. What were your experiences like with other children when you explained what it meant to have type 1 diabetes?
Jack: “I met my best friend to this day after a can of Lucozade exploded in my bag in the first week, and he helped me clear it up. So I’m actually quite grateful for that. Otherwise, my diabetes was just part of the background at school; it rarely came up in conversation.”
Mollie: “They were usually okay. Some children didn’t seem to understand what it meant when I was in primary school and I explained it to them, but I eventually became quite good at answering strange diabetes-related questions.”
Benedict: “I didn’t talk much about diabetes to people at first as it never got in the way too much. Much later on in school, there were jokes about my diabetes but in a fun rather than nasty way.”
Q. How much did you have to manage your diabetes at school?
Jack: “I had an injection before and after school, and that was it, more or less. I was told to watch out for hypos and tell a teacher if I felt unwell, which I did, but it was only when I started my GCSEs that I started carrying around a blood glucose meter.”
Mollie: “I had to manage it quite a bit during secondary school, especially during my exams. However, I felt very comfortable managing it as I knew my friends and teachers were all aware that I had diabetes, and most of them would know what to do if I was feeling unwell.”
Benedict: “I was on a twice-daily regimen so I injected with a syringe before and after school. This was before insulin pens were available. Whilst I did blood tests at school, my GP made me cut down on testing as I entered my teenage years, so the further up in school I went, the rarer tests at school became. I spotted hypos through my symptoms more than with blood tests.”
Q. Did you ever feel like your diabetes stopped you from fitting in?
Jack: “Not at all. Of course, I was lucky. My parents helped me keep such good control of my diabetes it enabled me to focus on school work and making friends. But even as I became older, and started managing things myself, I knew that keeping good BG levels would allow me to get on with other things.”
Mollie: “Not really. I tried to make sure it never stopped me from taking part in different things when I was at school, and ensured I got involved with lots of different sports and school trips.”
Benedict: “I fitted in with most things. I didn’t like field trips because I really didn’t like telling new people I had diabetes. My twice-daily insulin regimen meant that I had to eat lunch at a regular time to avoid hypos and it limited what I could eat to some extent. Looking back, my diabetes may have indirectly made me more shy than I perhaps would otherwise have been. At the time I just felt shy and didn’t really connect it to perhaps being caused by diabetes.”
Q. Did diabetes have an effect on your school work?
Jack: “It didn’t. Thankfully, my twice-daily regimen meant I barely had any hypos at school, which left me free to focus on school work. But exam times were more precarious – at least in terms of making sure my BG levels were stable beforehand, so I had to test my blood sugar more often.”
Mollie: “Not really! I tried to control it well enough so I could get through lessons without having to leave to test my blood sugar, but obviously if something happened during a lesson I would make sure I had snacks or my insulin with me to sort it out. I managed to do quite well in school so I don’t think my diabetes had much of an effect on my work at all.”
Benedict: “I didn’t feel like it had much effect early on but it did affect me at GCSE and A-level exam times. Because my GP stopped me testing as much as I should have been, I would go low during exams and not understand why. Looking back all these years later I see how a number of my exams must have had undetected hypos going on.”
Q. What words of encouragement would you pass on to children with type 1 diabetes about to start school?
Jack: “Everyone’s experiences of school are different, and it’s no different for people with type 1 diabetes. Some children will be blessed with great classmates and teachers; some won’t. Just make sure you know who to go to when you feel low, and that your blood glucose levels are within your target range. This will mean you can give school your best shot, without diabetes holding you back.”
Mollie: “I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but try not to be too worried about it – starting a new school is an exciting time and you shouldn’t let your diabetes put you off.”
Benedict: “The better you control diabetes, the easier things will fall into place. If ever you don’t feel on form in an exam, check your blood sugar. Also, note that diabetes definitely doesn’t need to stop you achieving great things. My diabetes was not brilliantly controlled through school and yet my grades were strong.”
- IDDT Parents Passport for Schools: Download a free booklet as part of a campaign to drive up standards of care for school children with diabetes
- Hypo Training Program: With programs for parents, children and teachers, learn all about the symptoms and causes of hypos before school starts up
- Diabetes Forum: Users can share their experience on our Children & Teens and Young People/Adults sections